Family members often hand down inspirational and valuable items to their children-antiques, rings, the family Bible, and property. My wife's grandmother lived nearly 104 years. She did not have many earthly possessions, but her godly life-style has been handed down to family members. In her family are ministers, medical and business professionals, and church and community leaders. Grandma's hand-me-downs, though not silver and gold, are an asset to society.
Other hand-me-downs can result in pain, dysfunction, and aimlessness. A child sits in a restaurant with his parents and observes them drinking alcohol. Unknowingly, they may be training the child to take the first step that could lead to addiction.
A husband shows no respect for his wife and, by example, teaches this behavior to his son. His son will likely show a lack of respect for his wife. Abusive parents are often the products of abuse or neglect themselves.
Immediately after Max concluded his presentation on "Family Dependencies" to a high school faculty, a teacher approached him with tears in her eyes. Margaret, a math teacher, explained that she was a divorcee of three months. Her former husband was controlled by alcohol and compulsive spending. She explained how she was physically and emotionally abused during this ten-year marriage. The couple was in debt to the point of having to declare bankruptcy. Concerned about her children because they were being neglected, she chose a painful divorce to alleviate this family tension.
As the conversation continued, Margaret explained that her father was an alcoholic. As a child, she had given much of her time serving as the mom of the family since most of her mother's energy and efforts were given to her alcoholic husband. Margaret would sometimes help the younger children prepare for school and cook their meals when her mother was not available to care for them. In this lengthy conversation, Margaret finally got to the point. "Max, you have given a description of my family. With all the pain and suffering I have experienced with my former husband and father, I can't believe what I am doing. I have started a relationship with a nice man who accepts me, and we are making plans for marriage. Here's the problem! I believe he is also an alcoholic. How could I do this again to my children and myself?"
Whenever a family member has a life-controlling problem, the entire family is affected. These strongholds can be handed down from generation to generation if the chain of sin is not broken. Moses writes: "'The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation'" (Numbers 14:18). "Church and community are concerned with the stability of family life. Family instability contributes inordinately to human suffering 'unto the third and fourth generation' " (Turnbull, 221).
Various theories explain why dependencies run in families. Some experts believe it is hereditary; others contribute it to a person's environment. Frank Minirth, a noted psychiatrist, has said:
Alcoholism runs in families, but it is not clear whether this pattern relates more to hereditary or environmental influence. If an "addiction-prone" trait is passed genetically, the specific trait has not been identified. . . .
There is reason to believe that there may be some genetic difference in many but not all alcoholics. But genetics is not the only reason individuals become alcoholics. Nor does every person with this genetic difference become an alcoholic (60-61).
Although much attention is given to alcoholism running in families, this is also true of other dependencies. The children of compulsive gamblers learn behaviors that are transferred to the next generation. They have many of the same symptoms that are seen in drug addictions. Child abuse is another problem that runs in families. "Abusive parents frequently were themselves abused or neglected in childhood" (Collins, 455, 1980).
Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
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